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An orchestra in top form
on 4 May 2010
This is the third instalment in the Petrenko cycle of Shostakovich symphonies, and follows a much-praised public performance the month before this recording was made, in March 2009.
The 8th Symphony of 1943 is the more abstract, and arguably greater, companion to the 'Leningrad'. The long first movement is an arc of sound in which the tension inexorabkly mounts to an almost unbearable climax, then unwinds slowly into an uneasy calm. Then follow two hard-driven scherzi, and a slow movement that forms the emotional heart of the work, ending with the unnerving judder of flutter-tongued flutes. The finale, following on without a break, offers a new dawn, dying away until a shift to a major key allows a tentative expression of optimism at the end.
The composer challenges the mettle of orchestral soloists, with many passages calling for great expression as well as virtuosity: a long cor anglais solo in the dying fall of the first movement; the piccolo in the scherzi; and a violin solo in the finale can be picked out from many in this visionary score. The RLPO principals are up to this challenge, with playing of great eloquence and refinement.
This is a performance which will greatly enhance the growing reputation of the RLPO and its young Russian conductor, and sits comfortably alongside the now classic versions of Mravinsky and Previn. It has the added advantage of superior modern sound to capture the extreme dynamic range of this symphony. As usual, Naxos provide excellent programme notes and the bargain price that is a feature of the company.